Wanton Barbie Gets The Iranian Death Sentence

January 30, 2012

Political crackdowns around the world occur with such alarming frequency that they tend to run together. But despite daily news reports, can you name the specific issues being protested in Egypt, Syria, Tibet, Nigeria, Thailand, Israel, China, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Bahrain, or Greece? Or even on Wall Street? Regardless of how you did on that question, it is a sure thing that you will remember the reason for the latest crackdown in sunny Iran.

The Islamic Republic, and its fanatical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, specialize in hey-look-at-me headlines. But this one isn't for the ongoing us-against-the-world strategies that have now made the country the target of renewed boycotts and sanctions. Nor because someone is killing off its nuclear scientists. Nor because it is threatening a suicidal closing of the Strait of Hormuz. Nor because the Europen Union has frozen its assets. Nor because its ("peaceful") nuclear program computers were invaded by the Stuxnet worm. And not because Ma-Ah just completed a Latin American tour, where he proudly proclaimed fellow nutjobs Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez to be kindred souls.

No, this news is far more important. It seems that, for many years, Iran has been overIrun with illegal Barbie dolls, and the government is finally cracking down on this latest threat to the peaceful Islamic way of life.

In coordinated sweeps across Tehran, Iran's National Police have swooped down on dozens of toy shops, and summarily shuttered them for the high crime of selling Banned Barbies. No, this isn't one of those fake news pranks that pop up occasionally, and leads to some jokester in the newsroom being fired. It is happening right now, part of a renewed crackdown against what the semiofficial Mehr news agency called "manifestations of Western culture".

In case you have forgotten, curvy Barbie, made by the US company Mattel, was officially banned in Iran in 1996 as being un-Islamic. An Iranian government-backed children's agency labelled her a "Trojan horse" for sneaking Western influences, like makeup and revealing clothes, into the country. Iranian shop-owners may have been nationalistic, but they were even more capitalistic. They knew what their young girls wanted, and it wasn't Burqa Barbie. So they continued to import, and sell, the blond, busty version popular in the rest of the world, complete with bikinis and miniskirts.

But in a society where many women cover everything but their eyes in public, and men and women are not allowed to swim together, you might understand that those impressionable young girls, with their Pamela Anderson Barbies, might grow up feeling that basic black sack is not as desirable as short black spandex. Not exactly what the Ayatollah Seyed Ali Hoseyni Khamene'i had in mind.

So in 2002, the authorities started confiscating the dolls from stores, again denouncing what they called the toys' un-Islamic characteristics. The campaign was eventually dropped, but last week's Mehr news report quoted an unidentified police official as saying that the authorities were now removing the dolls from stores in Tehran in a "new phase" of the campaign.

Meanwhile, in 2008, when the Islamic judiciary warned against the "destructive" cultural and social consequences and "danger" of importing Barbie dolls and other Western toys, Iran introduced its own dolls -- Dara and Sara, twins wearing traditional Islamic clothing. Developed by the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, a government agency affiliated with the Ministry of Education, female Sara and male Dara were introduced "to promote traditional values and counter the American dolls".

Sara's hair is covered with a head scarf, and she wears shapeless clothes. One outfit consists of a knee-length, loose orange shirt, blue pants and white socks. Another is a flower-dotted shirt and a full-length flower-dotted white chador, a robe covering the body from head to toe. Dara, the Iranian answer to fashion-plate Ken, comes with a rather limited wardrobe: two outfits - black pants, a white shirt and a black jacket, or a beige shirt, blue pants and red jacket. Shockingly, they weren't a hit with the kids, and they failed to stem the Barbie tide.

According to a release published on the Iranian Islam for Today website, "The Muslim dolls have been developed by a government agency to promote traditional values, with their modest clothing and pro-family backgrounds. They are widely seen as an effort to counter the American dolls and accessories that have flooded the Iranian market." The report also quotes an Iranian toy seller named Masoumeh Rahimi, who says he welcomed the dolls, because Barbie was "foreign to Iran's culture", and young girls who play with "wanton" Barbie could grow into women who reject Iranian values. "I think every Barbie doll is more harmful than an American missile".

Pentagon - take note.

The release also points out that Sara and Dara are supposed to be eight years old, "young enough under Islamic law for Sara to appear in public without a head scarf. Still, each of the four models of Sara comes with a white scarf to cover her brown or black hair." According to the report, some 100,000 dolls were manufactured - in China - but the launch had been delayed five years, after the quality of the first, Iranian-made samples were not satisfactory to the government. Dara and Sara each sell for $15. Genuine Barbies sell for $40, and Iranian-made copies sell for $3 in a country where the average monthly salary is $100.

Some crimes in Iran are punishable by stoning, or cutting off of limbs. Affronts to Islamic law can result in a death sentence. But despite these threats, many Iranian families apparently find that wanton Barbie's anatomically-correct "manifestations of Western Culture" are worth dying for.